Seabirds are caught and drowned on hooks or in nets and also killed when they collide with cables dragged by big fishing vessels. Statistics indicates more than 1 million seabirds are kill every year by fishing activities. However, this can be changed. Simple and low-costs measures while highly effective already exist for preventing unintended death of seabirds and turtles.
In the South Hemisphere (Argentina, Brazil, Chile, South Africa, Namibia) the Albatross Task Force, led by BirdLife International, has managed to reduce seabirds bycatch in more than 90%. After this great success, the lessons learned are now being incorporated in 7 countries in West Africa through a MAVA funded project run by BirdLife International. The project seeks to protect seabirds and turtles in industrial fisheries in Cape Verde, Gambia, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Mauritania, Senegal and Sierra Leone.
The West African sub-region is one of the most important fishing spots in the word as well as an important migratory corridor for birds that migrate between Africa and Europe.
There are many projects, laws and regulations to protect birds on land, but there is not many specific legislations in the 7 countries that protect them at sea. Once at sea, the threats increase for the seabirds while the protection reduces.
One observer is showing one turtle victim of by bycatch in Senegal coasts. After collecting the pertinent data, he gives it back to the sea © Libasse Diagne
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“Seabirds and turtles’ bycatch is not fully covered by the existing legislation in the region and, despised mentioning that endangered species should be protected, they do not enforce the fishing industry to take measures to prevent incidental catch”, explains Ahmed Diame, the BirdLife Africa Bycatch Project Manager. He reinforce that countries in the sub-region should harmonize the fishing legislation across the countries, and take the first step to be able to understand the dimension of the impact of fishing activities on seabird and turtle populations in the region. Despite the area is a Key Biodiversity Area, an important flyway and a fishing spot for European, Chinese and Russian vessels, there is scant scientific data on bycatch, a problem that BirdLife is seeking to solve.
Capacity building is key to success
Capacity building of observers working at sea to supervise fishing activities is a key pillar of this by-catch project. Although governments are supposed to regulate fishing activities in the area, including checking whether fishing is being done in forbidden areas or the amount of fish being caught, this doesn’t always happen and, most of the time, it doesn’t include the impact of these activities in other species like seabirds or turtles, leading to unsustainable fishing. By this project, fishing observers are trained to conduct on board data collection regarding seabirds and turtle by-catch, including how to collect this data, and identifying different species of these animals.
At the beginning of this project, a workshop was held in Senegal, where at least two observers of each 7 countries were trained on data collection. This was followed by national trainings, conducted in Guinea, Mauritania and Senegal. “At the end of this training, we anticipate to have a network of people in the different countries collecting bycatch information, so they will be able to continue collecting these data as part of their regular tasks once our project finishes”, says Oumar Ba, one of the two instructors of the By-catch project.
During the trainings the observers learn how to identify different species of turtles and seabirds and how to collect data © Ruben Rocha
The first results of the work are coming!
Observers have already collected some important data on turtle bycatch. On the other hand, data collection for seabird bycatch can be a complex task, owing to the swiftness of the occurrence. Seabirds strike trawler cables and go down in a matter of seconds.
“During the training, we show the observers videos, and photos of seabird bycatch to explain that this is a really fast event. We now need to complement the training with on board practice to strengthen their capacity, so they will be able to collect seabird bycatch data soon”, explains Ruben Rocha, the other project instructor. However, is in this point where the project come to one of the greatest difficulties. As the Ruben explains, “some of the vessels’ Captains may see us as a threat”.
BirdLife is working with stakeholders in the fishing sector to facilitate boarding of instructors on vessels to help in seabird by-catch training. At the moment, negotiations are underway to reach an agreement with Cape Verdean Vessel Owners Association, while other negotiations are scheduled for Guinea and Senegal. Preparations for national training in Sierra Leone, Gambia and Guinea Bissau are also underway.
>> Follow the story of the bycatch team and discover in our next articles the huge challenges that the project is facing: vessel owners, fishing markets, laws…